Home Historical Fiction Mini Review: The Wolf and the Watchman – The Literary Equivalent of Repeatedly Punching a Wall (AKA Not fun)

Mini Review: The Wolf and the Watchman – The Literary Equivalent of Repeatedly Punching a Wall (AKA Not fun)

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Title: The Wolf and the Watchman
Author: Niklas Natt och Dag
Publisher: Atria Books
Release Date: March 5th, 2019
Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
Subjects and Themes: Crime
Page Count: 384 (paperback)

Rating: 5.0/10

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It is 1793. Four years after the storming of the Bastille in France and more than a year after the death of King Gustav III of Sweden, paranoia and whispered conspiracies are Stockholm’s daily bread. A promise of violence crackles in the air as ordinary citizens feel increasingly vulnerable to the whims of those in power.

When Mickel Cardell, a crippled ex-solider and former night watchman, finds a mutilated body floating in the city’s malodorous lake, he feels compelled to give the unidentifiable man a proper burial. For Cecil Winge, a brilliant lawyer turned consulting detective to the Stockholm police, a body with no arms, legs, or eyes is a formidable puzzle and one last chance to set things right before he loses his battle to consumption. Together, Winge and Cardell scour Stockholm to discover the body’s identity, encountering the sordid underbelly of the city’s elite.

Meanwhile, Kristofer Blix—the handsome son of a farmer—leaves rural life for the alluring charms of the capital and ambitions of becoming a doctor. His letters to his sister chronicle his wild good times and terrible misfortunes, which lead him down a treacherous path.

In another corner of the city, a young woman—Anna-Stina—is consigned to the workhouse after she upsets her parish priest. Her unlikely escape plan takes on new urgency when a sadistic guard marks her as his next victim.

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This was definitely a case of “it’s not you, it’s me,” because if you break down the book’s individual elements–setting, character, plot–what you get isn’t anything bad. Far from it, really. Eighteenth century Stockholm was fascinating to read about, the characters were peripherally interesting, and while the mystery took some time to get going (part two especially makes things confusing) it kept my interest for the most part.

My problem lies with just how utterly grey, dour, and joyless the whole experience was. The two main characters are a well-written but unlikable bunch: Winge is the genius not-quite-detective who suffers from a case of consumption and a cold, manipulative personality, and Cardell is the embittered war-vet-turned-watchman who suffers from anger management issues. It’s reminiscent of True Detective S1–all the dour grimness and a slew of underlying thematic messages, but minus the chemistry between the lead characters which would have made the story more bearable.

If you’re craving a gritty and gruesome historical murder mystery and can stomach stark depictions of human depravity, then I’d recommend it. Not to be for me, sadly.

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Review copy provided by the publisher via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

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6 comments

Tammy March 19, 2019 - 1:34 pm

I just read a rave review of this on another blog, so I guess it is a matter of taste. Sorry it didn’t work!

Reply
Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky March 25, 2019 - 7:09 am

The one thing I did learn from this is that I’m not a fan of grimdark that doesn’t have SFF elements. 😀

Reply
debjani6ghosh March 19, 2019 - 1:35 pm

I, on the other hand, liked this book very much. Nevertheless, I also acknowledge that it may not be to everyone’s liking since it does have dark portrayal of human nature.

Reply
Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky March 25, 2019 - 7:10 am

So glad you liked it! I’ve seen tons and tons of positive reviews and blurbs, and I definitely understand why. But I guess I only like grimdark when it’s got some sort of fantastical element.

Reply
Norrie March 21, 2019 - 7:58 am

Oh, i loved True Detective S1 <3
I kept seeing this book around, but i didn't realize it was a historical one. I maybe be confusing with another book that has wolf in the title tho 😀
Great review!

Reply
waytoofantasy March 21, 2019 - 4:31 pm

Ah, gray and joyless wouldn’t work for me either. I need at least some hope or fun. Great review!

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